An eminent pioneer in Chinese Contemporary art, Gu Wenda remains unrivalled in his time. He began working with Chinese calligraphy during the '85 New Wave, transforming calligraphy into huge expressionist paintings by first breaking apart, then reassembling Chinese words. On one level, calligraphy has an abstract form and expressive structure; on a second and deeper level, the Chinese language is the bearer of Chinese culture itself. Gu combines these two aspects of the language and creates his very own, unique artistic language. By keeping the expressive strength of calligraphy and maintaining the beauty of ink, he touches upon the very core of traditional Chinese ink painting. Further, he goes back to the tradition of the ideogram, which had been forgotten for almost fifty years.
Gu's seminal Mythos of Lost Dynasties - Form C 1983-7 (Lot 1627) series from the mid-1980s displays the core elements of his experimentations in tradition, modernity, and an elevation of a personal experience to the conceptual and philosophical core of his art practice. As a child, Gu was hired to create "big character" propaganda posters for Mao's Red Guard. At his first solo exhibition in China in 1986, Gu displayed a series of his trademark huge ink paintings but with deliberate, unintelligible mis-writing, which was seen by some critics as a rebellious gesture against the manipulative use of language during the Maoist era. Suspecting political sabotage, and frustrated by their inability to understand Gu's imaginary writing, the Chinese propaganda department closed his show before it opened. In this series of works painted from 1983 to 1987, Gu draws from his own study of archaic seal scripts to produce aesthetically compelling but in fact thoroughly undecipherable images. This was the core metaphor that made his works so radical: that the long history of Chinese language and writing, the vehicle for the transmission of culture itself, was in fact meaningless and no longer held any meaning. Despite their apparent homage to tradition, Gu has radically separated content, language, and meaning, to reveal complex messages in unexpected forms.